The stories they tell
A review of Broken Alabaster Jars
by Anne Pickup –
by Major Deborah Flagg –
The author Flannery O’Connor once observed that a people can best be known not by their statements or by their statistics, but by the stories they tell. And it does seem that both statements and statistics often conceal as much as they clarify. Stories, on the other hand, are revelatory of the way things really are, offering glimpses into the deeper realities of human struggle and devotion.
In the Army, we make many statements and collect endless statistics about women in ministry; our tradition requires it! But, what we really need is more stories, more insights into the lives and ministries of the unsung women heroes who populate our ranks. We need narratives of excellence and sacrifice to show us how to craft our own stories.
This is precisely what Anne Pickup has given us in her newly published book, Broken Alabaster Jars. Framed by the story of the unnamed woman who “did what she could” in the care and anointing of Jesus, this book offers portraits of Salvation Army women doing what they could with passion and purpose in the sacred gallery of “ministry that is Army.” Blessedly free of statements and statistics, it is a book that pulsates with human dedication and sanctified energy.
In placing the stories of contemporary women Salvationists alongside the stories of worthy women in Church history — a narrative to narrative approach — Pickup honors the contributions of both, allowing the women themselves to tell their stories. Among the 10 portraits, we see the musical ministry of Jude Gotrich in partnership with the inspired hymnody of Anne Steele, the family focus of Brigadier Eva Bawden in tandem with the anointed homemaking of Katherine von Bora, the prayer ministry of Lieutenant Colonel Virginia Talmadge in holy conspiracy with the mysticism of Hildegard von Bingen. This creative approach to the stories allows the “then” to elucidate the “now,” and helps us to see how women have shaped and continue to shape the Army that we are.
Proverbs 31:29 confirms about women that “Many have done excellently.” We also could say this about Anne Pickup and the women she lovingly and faithfully portrays in this significant contribution to The Salvation Army story. They “did what they could,” and so much more. They bear witness to the power of God in the lives of those who open themselves with abandon to his light.
Broken Alabaster Jars is a prayerfully conceived, carefully researched and well-written volume, a gift to our daughters and our sons. And I, for one, am grateful for these lives, grateful for these stories.